A prolific photographer, Daido Moriyama is also a prolific publisher of photobooks. As well as dozens of monographs Moriyama also publishes a regular journal, RECORD, containing a selection of images and a brief commentary. Originally started way back in 1972, Moriyama got as far as issue 5 in 1973 before stopping publication. Revived more than thirty years later in 2006 RECORD has been published regularly ever since with issue 42 appearing recently. While many of the older issues can still be found second hand some of them are much rarer and correspondingly expensive when they do show up. A reprint of issues 1 – 5 appeared around ten years ago but that book is now out of print and sells for $200-300 on the used market. Thanks to Thames & Hudson though, the earlier issues of RECORD are now available in a more affordable package. Daido Moriyama: Record contains a selection of images and Moriyama’s brief commentaries from issue 1 to issue 30 taking us up to February 2016. The publisher decided to make the book the same size as the journal so the images are reproduced at the same size as the originals.
Coverage of the first five issues is disappointingly basic. While there is one full size image from issues one to four the rest of the images are much reduced in size with two double page spreads from the original being compressed onto one page. Number five is treated a little differently with what appears to be the full issue presented in facsimile, though again at reduced size. This lack of full size images is a shame since it would have been interesting to compare them with the pictures appearing from issue six onwards given the gap of more than 30 years between the earlier work and the later. From issue six onwards all the images are full page and there are plenty of them with ten to twelve pages, and sometimes more, devoted to each issue.
The immediate impression on opening the book is what you would expect from Moriyama – the everyday urban environment shot in high contrast, sometimes to the point where images seem almost to be literally black and white, with lots of grain. Once settled in for a slow browse the pictures reveal much more. I find that there are some photographers whose work is best viewed in small batches or even single images but for me Moriyama’s images cry out to be consumed in bulk. There is a relentlessness to his photography that requires a corresponding relentless looking. While an individual image may seem mundane, even boring, cumulatively there is an incredible visual power here.
While Moriyama is probably the best known Japanese photographer of his era and is steeped in the Japanese photographic tradition a number of the brief commentaries that accompany each issue focus on the many non-Japanese influences on his work: Richard Avedon, Roland Barthes, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner and above all William Klein. In Record 23 Moriyama describes the impact of Klein’s work on him as a young man.
My encounter with Klein’s book New York when I was just twenty-two and still loitering at the door of the photography world was a defining moment for me. The abundant results of extremely violent and freewheeling camera work that were tossed into that single volume made me dizzy. For the first time I experienced the physiological pleasure and impact of the photographic image. Without giving a damn at that time about rationale and knowledge, I just stood there gazing and muttering, ‘Awesome.’
Klein in turn is a fan of Moriyama. In Record 10 Moriyama recalls words that Klein wrote for one of Moriyama’s photobooks.
So many photographers, HCB is one, keep telling us that life can be beautiful, but for Daido life can be, and is, pretty shitty…and photography as well. Now, after rubbing our noses in that for years and years, he has just put together a show in Paris – the first show of his that I’ve seen – and its like the movie when the man says to the girl, ‘Hey, take off your glasses,’ and she does. ‘But your beautiful,’ and she is. And today we see Daido’s tragic, despairing, no-way-out, end-of-the-world photos for what they always were, fucking beautiful, like he is himself. So…more power to him.
Moriyama himself appears to be refreshingly free of self-regard and eschews the opportunity to over analyse or explain his own photography, while still offering some insight into his work. In Record 24 he reflects on the meaning of his ‘snaps’ having looked up the word in a Japanese-English dictionary.
I consider the style of my own street ‘snaps’ as scraping and snatching all kinds of views and all kinds of people and scenes I encounter in the streets. At the back of my mind I am biting at everything in the external world. It is almost the same as stealing.
This record of Moriyama’s snatched encounters with the streets, not only in Japan but around the world, is a must have for anyone who appreciates Moriyama’s work or good street photography in general. Highly recommended.
Finally, here are a couple of excellent short videos about Moriyama. The first, from the Hasselbald Foundation is an interview conducted when he was announced as the Foundation’s Award winner for 2019. The second was produced by the Tate Gallery in 2012 to coincide with the joint Moriyama- Klein exhibition at the Tate Modern that year. This video is narrated by Moriyama talking about his photography while showing him at work on the streets of Tokyo and in his studio.
This a substantial hardback book with 280 images spread over 484 glossy pages and comes in a slip cover. I bought my copy from Amazon in the full knowledge that it would be damaged on arrival as a result of shoddy packaging. Sure enough the corners were dented, but at least the slip cover protected the actual book. I bought from Amazon because they were offering it a great price, but generally I always recommend people to buy books elsewhere.